GVSU Partnership Provides Head Start in Health Careers

Thomas J. Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, and Michael Shibler, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, say their schools’ partnership will help prepare students for a growing health-care field

The district’s high school students looking to get a jump on their college education now have another opportunity: GrandValley State University.

District and university officials announced a new early college partnership whereby Rockford students can take GVSU courses in health science at the high school, good for both high school and college credit. The program begins next fall for seniors.

Rockford students already have the option of a similar partnership between Rockford and Ferris State University, earning credits in high school classrooms toward FSU or other colleges. Now they can earn up to six credits in GVSU’s Allied Health Sciences program, in courses taught by a university faculty member assisted by a Rockford teacher.

Both programs are being supported in part by the Rockford Education Foundation, which is providing $25,000 annually for the next five years to help the district cover tuition costs. REF Executive Director Jill Silverman said the initiative “fits perfectly into our mission to enhance educational opportunities for learners of all ages.”

Officials said the arrangement will help Rockford students explore possible health careers while saving money on tuition, with college debt a rising concern for students and families.

“They’ve got to have experiences while they’re in high school in order to start formulating their career goals,” Superintendent Michael Shibler said. “We believe in Rockford that early college provides rigor for students to experience what college is all about,” he added, noting it’s common for students to wash out in their first year of college.

Filling A Need

For GVSU, the partnership helps meet an exploding demand for health-field jobs in West Michigan, while getting Rockford students better prepared to enter one of its 74 health-related programs, officials said. More than 10,000 of GVSU’s 25,000-plus students study in those programs.

“We want to make sure that we can attract the best students into these fields,” said President Thomas J. Haas. “We know there is great opportunity for our students to then get that first step into their career path.”

There is a shortage of about 1,000 nurses in West Michigan, as well as high demand for physicians’ assistants and physical and occupational therapists, said Dr. Jean Nagelkerk, GVSU vice provost for health. As the population ages, she added, “we need these students to go into health professions to take care of us.”

Taking health courses in high school will not only help students figure out which field they want to enter, but help them complete the core science courses they will need to qualify for medical study programs, officials said. Haas noted GVSU has far more applicants into those programs than it can accommodate.

“You need to really have the idea of what it’s going to take to get there when you show up,” said Dr. Roy Olsson, dean of the GVSU College of Health Professions.

The program will begin next fall with a GVSU course in medical terminology, and continue the following semester with introduction to health care. Applications for the 25 available slots in each course will begin later this spring.

CONNECT

Rockford Early College Program with Ferris

Sen. Peters’ Bill to Expand Early College Programs

Rockford Education Foundation

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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